Tuesday, January 24, 2006

To Live & Scoot in L.A.

In which M2 lays out his theory for making the world a better place through responsible scootering, and compares and contrasts four-wheelers' attitudes toward the two-wheeled in two great American cities.

If you read my Y360 Blog, you probably already know that I believe that the best long-term strategy the West has for defeating radical Islamist caliphatism, for preserving our environment, for conserving our natural resources and for bringing the global economy to the next level is for the West to wean itself away from dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

In accordance with this belief, I ride a scooter. It’s an Indian-made Bajaj Chetak; a four-stroke, 150cc version of a 1970s-era Vespa that gets around 90 miles-per-gallon. The Bajaj is smart and stylish, with its two-tone red and white paint job and whitewall tires, and I cut quite a figure riding it up and down Hollywood BLVD. (The scoot pictured above is not mine but one I cribbed from the BajajUSA website. Looks pretty much like it, though.)

Many of my fellow Angelenos -- even my fellow Yahoo!s -- are not quite sure what to make of me and my ride, however. L.A. is, of course, the birthplace of California Car Culture and the home of the freeway. Angelenos celebrate the automobile at every turn: the Peterson Automobile Museum is one of the city's most important cultural institutions, the Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake hosts a classic car rally every Friday night, Burbank sports a shop entirely devoted to books about cars and car models. And L.A. is also the home of big – big SUVs, big cars, big houses and big appetites for glamour and excesses of all kinds.

So to live lean and travel small goes against the grain. In San Francisco, where I bought my scoot, I drew admiring comments wherever I rode. In L.A., however, drivers kind of smile sadly and shake their heads, as if feeling sorry for me out there in the harsh SoCal elements and Indy 500 traffic, too poor to afford the luxurious comfort and ironclad safety of a BMW or Hummer. (If they only knew the kind of scratch Yahoo! forks over every fortnight to me, they would see that my decision to scoot instead of drive is one hardly based in economics alone.)

Fellow L.A. motorbike riders are another story. Back in S.F., motorcyclists are for more cliquish than they are in down here. Up North, Harley riders would never talk to rice burner riders, who would seldom have anything to say to Vespa enthusiasts, who would rarely condescend to acknowledge the owner of a lowly Honda Elite. Here, however, everyone on two wheels is part of a fellowship that communicates in passing with nods, winks, chin-tilts, waves, V-for-victory signs, and the ever-popular thumps-up.

In addition, an L.A. automobile driver will go out of his way to get out of a scooterist’s. Lane splitting in L.A. is like parting the Red Sea. Perhaps this is another expression of the driver’s misguided pity for the scooterist, or maybe they’re just afraid to get scratches on their freshly waxed paint. Who knows? Whatever the reason, L.A. drivers are much more kind to motorcyclists than drivers in S.F. and just about anywhere else I’ve ridden. I think a little pity in exchange for a little deference on the road is a pretty fair bargain.

This article was cross-posted on Y360.


Post a Comment

<< Home